Kerry Woodward Featured in CSULB News Piece

Excerpt from the February 15, 2021 article “CSULB professors explore our nation’s history and its connection to today” by Emily Holland:

Anti-Black racism in poverty and public policy

Kerry Cooper
Kerry Woodward

Sociology Professor Kerry Woodward’s poverty and public policy course aims to show how white supremacist policies created disproportionate poverty in Black communities, and how racist discourses and policies further entrenched poverty by promoting policing rather than investing in Black communities.

“The curriculum examines the policies that have led to racialized poverty (especially concentrated urban poverty) and the policies enacted either to assist or to manage and discipline poor people,” Woodward said. “In all of these cases, anti-Black racism has been a driving force.”

The course explores the history of housing policies, which initially excluded many people of color from being able to buy homes, the government’s “pivotal role” in the creation of poor urban neighborhoods, and the racist history of welfare programs, including early New Deal programs that systematically excluded people working in certain industries, such as agriculture and domestic work, where the vast majority of African Americans worked at the time.

Once African Americans were granted access to welfare programs, they were blamed by politicians and the media for their poverty and painted as lazy and/or fraudulent “welfare queens,” “dead-beat fathers,” drug addicts and criminals, she said.

It is important to include the histories of marginalized people because those stories make up the history of our country and the world, Woodward said.

“But even more important is that the history of racism has shaped our neighborhoods, schools, prisons, and policies, and these institutions in turn perpetuate inequality, benefitting some of us, and disadvantaging others,” she said.

Although students know that Black, American Indian and Latinx people are more likely to be poor than white and Asian people, as products of American schools and culture they often struggle to explain the high rates of poverty among African Americans.

Students lean on cultural explanations when they don’t know the history, and those cultural explanations have been used to justify weak and paternalistic social policies that do more to reproduce racialized poverty and inequality than to alleviate it, Woodward said.

“I aim to show students the ways poverty is constructed and shaped through policy, and the way policies have often furthered racial — and gender — inequality,” she said. “The good news is that policies can change — and that we get to play a role in making that happen. If the problem is certain policies and their legacies, then the solution is different policies.”